Immigration

Forty women hold hunger strike at Sydney detention centre

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The group claims a fellow detainee was dragged through the facility for ignoring new rules.

Around 40 female detainees in Sydney’s Villawood Immigration Detention Centre held a hunger strike on Thursday in protest over new measures restricting their movement to one compound in the facility.

The Refugee Action Coalition said the new changes were announced on Monday, requiring the female detainees to have a guarded escort if they wish to leave the Lima compound.

The group’s spokesman, Ian Rintoul, said the strike started at 11am. A spokesperson for the Australian Border Force said it was no longer active as of 5:30pm.

Mr Rintoul said little explanation was provided for the changes, and the measures had already been enforced in an incident on Tuesday.

Video footage from the incident appears to show multiple male guards dragging a female detainee through a gate in the facility.

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Female detainee arrested by Villawood guards
Female detainee arrested by Villawood guards

Mr Rintoul said the guards intervened in the incident on Tuesday using "unnecessary force", after a female detainee attempted to take food on a tray back to the Lima compound, a practice which had previously been allowed.

“The petty changes means there is a greater possibility of harassment and bullying from guards. And [with that] we get the kind of incident that we got on Tuesday,” Mr Rintoul said.

Border Force defends guards use of 'reasonable force'

A spokesperson for the Australian Border Force said the intervention by guards was appropriate.

"We are aware of an incident that occurred on 10 July at Villawood Immigration Detention Centre. The officers appear to have used reasonable force," the spokesperson said in a statement provided to SBS News.

The spokesperson said the changes to segregate female from male detainees was about the safety and duty of care obligations of the Department of Home Affairs towards detainees.

"Placement decisions are part of a process of assessing and minimising risk to other detainees, service providers, visitors and staff. Detainee needs are considered in line with the Department’s duty of care to all detainees."

'Conditions worse than prisons'

Villawood has around 300 detainees, including those who have overstayed their visas.

Mr Rintoul said that the conditions in the detention facility go beyond what should be allowed.

“You have got people [inside Villawood] who are overstayers, you have people who have served terms in prison and the minister subsequently cancelled the visa they may have had - whether that was some kind of residential visa or a tourist visa. But overwhelmingly these [detentions of people] are for petty crimes,” he said.

“There is a judicial system to punish criminals [and] that is not the [role of the] immigration detention centre. And there shouldn't be conditions that are worse than prisons in immigration detention.”

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